Search

Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

William Shaw- Salt Lane/ Kate Rhodes-Hell Bay

I am going to don my bookseller hat here, and say with some confidence that if you like the sound of one of these beauties, I can pretty much guarantee that the other book will appeal too.

Go on. You know you want to…

DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Murder is different here, among the fens and stark beaches. The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions. It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt…

Having made the acquaintance of DS Alexandra Cupidi some time ago in The Birdwatcher , a wonderfully atmospheric thriller set against the backdrop of the bleak coastline of Dungeness, prepare to be completely absorbed as she makes her return in Salt Lane. Not only is this a well plotted and compelling police procedural, once again using this particular landscape to its full brooding and slightly sinister effect, but Salt Lane reveals itself to be so much more.

When you cast your eye over the backlist of William Shaw, comprising of his evocative 60s series, and the aforementioned The Birdwatcher, one cannot help but be struck by the skill of his storytelling, and the strength of his characterisation. As well as unfailingly producing absorbing, moving and carefully constructed police procedurals, Shaw also uses either the zeitgeist of the period, or the locations to envelop the reader completely in the atmosphere he seeks to produce. In Salt Lane the desolate, but rawly beautiful, locale of Dungeness once again reveals itself as a centrifugal force in the book, being either a place of safety or danger in equal measure, but also effectively acting as a prism for the emotional state of both Cupidi and her troubled teenage daughter, Zoe. As Zoe seeks to deal with her emotional pain and seeks solace from the landscape, also unwittingly leading herself into the heart of her mother’s investigation, Cupidi herself finds herself at times waging an emotional and physical battle with the unique geography of the area, and the murders that occur within its boundaries.

Taking a backward step for a second, I can’t emphasise enough the weight of emotion, and more importantly the completely plausible emotion that Shaw injects into his trinity of female characters, Cupidi, Zoe and Cupidi’s mother Helen, who will be recognisable to some readers from Shaw’s previous books. I was absolutely blown away by how succinctly and honestly Shaw captured the internal and external emotional lives of these women, as they navigate their differences and similarities in the course of the book. The tension and moments of conflict are balanced beautifully with moments of epiphany in their personal relationship with each other, and the scenes featuring these three exceptional characters are a joy to read, feeling raw, true and suffused with realism. I must confess that I don’t read much ‘women’s fiction’ as that which I have encountered always has a slightly mawkish feel in its depiction of ‘women’s experience’,  but I was held spellbound by the resonance of these characters in my interpretation of how women truly are, and how that which separates them, can be seen to actually bind them together more than they initially feel.

As for the plot itself, Shaw is given free reign to expose the worst ills of a Britain caught in a monstrous wave of nationalism and post-Brexit turmoil. Against the Kent location of the book, Shaw weaves a disturbing police investigation into an unflinching and, most importantly, objective appraisal of immigration and exploitation, that boils the blood, and tugs at the heartstrings in equal measure, depending on your political viewpoint. Without resorting to soapbox declarations on the state of Britain, Shaw holds a mirror up to the conflicting sides of the immigration issue, whilst keeping the book solidly on track as a crime thriller. Consequently, Salt Lane is never less than a wonderfully multi-layered contemporary thriller, replete with the highest calibre characterisation, and a looming feel of unease. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)

============================================

DI Ben Kitto needs a second chance. After ten years working for the murder squad in London, a traumatic event has left him grief-stricken. He’s tried to resign from his job, but his boss has persuaded him to take three months to reconsider. Ben plans to work in his uncle Ray’s boatyard, on the tiny Scilly island of Bryher where he was born, hoping to mend his shattered nerves. His plans go awry when the body of sixteen year old Laura Trescothick is found on the beach at Hell Bay. Her attacker must still be on the island because no ferries have sailed during a two-day storm. Everyone on the island is under suspicion. Dark secrets are about to resurface. And the murderer could strike again at any time.

With all the claustrophobic feel of a locked room mystery, and introducing us to a little fictionally represented corner of the world, Hell Bay proves to be a real treat, and on the back of Kate Rhodes’ brilliant series featuring Alice Quentin, this introduction to a new character DI Ben Kitto can only augur well for books to come…

I know I’m always going on about location in the books I read, but I genuinely think that if,  as a reader,  you can’t imagine this all too crucial element to a story in a tangible sense the book is lost before it starts, hence my adoration of writers such as Peter May and Ron Rash whose evocation of place is always perfect. So first big tick in the box to Rhodes who deftly depicts the ruggedness and solitude of her Scilly Isles location from the opening age, and consistently and atmospherically through the course of the book. The unique feel of this landscape, and the ever present changeable moods of the sea, provides the most sinister backdrop to her story, and I love the way that Rhodes manipulates this to add to the tension and emotion of the human dramas played out against its omnipresent influence. Indeed, many of the characters have an unbreakable and sometimes damaging connection to the sea, be it by occupation, by loss or by emotional disturbance and its influence looms large in the story and readers’ consciousness throughout.

I did like the character of DI Ben Kitto from the off, with his, at first concealed reasons for returning home, and his reluctance to re-engage with people from his formative years, adding a nice degree of shade and light to his character. I also enjoyed the way that we see him slowly assimilate himself back into the community, the pace of life, the pressures on peoples’ livelihoods, the suspicions of neighbours, and the reopening of conflicts from years past. This gave a very rounded feel to the particular pressures of living within such a small community, and how the actions of one person, is so deeply felt in the lives of the others. Kitto aside, I thought Rhodes’ characterisation was excellent throughout, and loved the disparate band of island dwellers who thwart or assist Kitto in his investigation. There was a real satisfying melting pot of characters, some infinitely more demonstrative than others, and the way that Rhodes’ uses them to portray the frustrations and hardships of island life, and the rootedness or need to escape each display.

Obviously with the premise of the book being a murder mystery, Rhodes works hard to achieve a marvellous modern interpretation of a classic locked room mystery, and she achieves this admirably. With only a finite number of suspects, I very much enjoyed the sense of personal detection she encourages in the reader in true Agatha Christie style, and I found the outcome of the book entirely satisfying. Hell Bay is a particularly strong start to a potential series, I hope, and one I shall follow with interest. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

==================================

 

 

Advertisements

#1 Denis Theriault- The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman- #20booksofsummer

Secretly steaming open envelopes and reading the letters inside, Bilodo has found an escape from his lonely and routine life as a postman. When one day he comes across a mysterious letter containing a single haiku, he finds himself avidly caught up in the relationship between a long-distance couple who write to each other using only beautiful poetry. He feasts on their words, vicariously living a life for which he longs. But it will only be a matter of time before his world comes crashing down around him…

 

Unassuming man

Toils daily with mail

Seeking soulmate with haikus.

 

Shines light on circle

Of life, love, being.

Your heart will ache pleasingly.

_________________________________________________

 

 

Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- Big Sister

Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously.
Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal…

Just when you thought that wily private investigator Varg Veum’s personal life couldn’t get any more complicated, Staalesen illustrates once again his ability to stretch his character to almost breaking point. Grappling with ghosts of the past, and a particularly emotional and troublesome missing person case, Veum is tested to the limit in the course of this all too personal investigation…

It goes without saying that Staalesen consistently produces crime thrillers to the highest standard, and considering how many books have featured the mercurial Varg Veum it is a remarkable achievement to keep a main protagonist so fresh and interesting after so many encounters. And yet this is what Staalesen does, and Big Sister is no exception. From the nod to Chandler in the title of the book itself, Staalesen once again engages us completely with Veum in his now trademark drily witty and hardboiled style. It’s almost as if Staalesen treats Veum as a metaphorical onion, peeling back layer after layer to reveal other aspects of Veum’s character, and unerringly placing him in difficult physical and emotional situations, which are all the more entertaining for us. I think the thing I enjoy most though is the very palpable sense of Veum getting older, and how he reacts differently to situations he’s placed in, as opposed to his younger self, whilst retaining that slightly gung-ho impetuousness and then realising his physical limitations as an older man. The deadpan humour, and cynical world view are in evidence as normal, but Staalesen tempers this beautifully with Veum’s realisation that his life to this point has not been all that it appears, and weighs him down beautifully as to how far he should pursue the truth of his family history. I loved the unfolding of this particular part of the plot, as Veum tries to reconcile his own character with what he knows of where his true parentage lies, and his sudden inclusion in a family and community as the truth of the past is revealed. Staalesen handles this arc of the story sensitively, and fully conveys the emotional confusion that Veum experiences, whilst tempering it to perfection with Veum’s naturally stoical personality.

In the main plot of the missing person investigation, Staalesen again weaves a complex connectivity between Veum and those he encounters, as they seek to evade and conceal their involvement with the victim. This book again takes us to some very dark places dealing with weighty issues such as sexual abuse, suicide, organised crime and addiction, and as always Veum’s gritty determination to solve the case, leads him and those closest to him into physical danger. I always enjoy Veum’s interactions with those he questions, chipping away at them until they either give up what the know, or punch him on the nose. Staalesen’s fluid dialogue, so resonant of the hardboiled masters, is here in spades, and complimented by a twisting and testing plot,  and with no exceedingly obvious guilty party there was, as always, much to enjoy here. With pithy references to the ills of contemporary society, the habitual strong sense of place, and a beautifully weighted translation again by Don Bartlett,  Big Sister is a brilliant addition to one of the most consistent and enjoyable European crime thriller series. Just what will Staalesen put Veum through next I wonder…. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Blog Tour- G. D. Abson- Motherland

Student Zena Dahl, the daughter of a Swedish millionaire, has gone missing in St Petersburg (or Piter as the city is colloquially known) after a night out with a friend. Captain Natalya Ivanova is assigned the case, making a change for Natalya from her usual fare of domestic violence work, but, because of the family’s wealth, there’s pressure for a quick result. But as she investigates she discovers that the case is not as straightforward as it may seem…

Pining for the heady excitement of Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 trilogy? Wishing that Martin Cruz Smith would recapture the magic of Gorky Park over and over again? Well fret no more gentle reader, as we may be onto a bit of a winner with Motherland, the first instalment of a new series featuring Captain Natalya Ivanova of the St Petersburg Criminal Investigations Directorate…

From the air of breathless danger that Abson introduces in the prologue, through to an extremely tense conclusion, real heart in the mouth stuff, I found this thriller utterly compelling throughout. I thought that Abson’s control of pace and tension was superb, and the balance between the domestic affairs and professional life of Ivanova, was spot on, with neither overpowering the other. They worked together to give the reader an extremely rounded depiction of all aspects of Ivanova’s life,  be it the professional tension of being married to a fellow crime investigator, the nefarious interference in their investigation by other Russian security services, and the sheer intensity and intrigue of the case itself involving a major figure in Swedish industry, and the suspected kidnap and murder of his adopted daughter. I also enjoyed the intermittent references to Putin, his rise to power, his strengthening grip on all aspects of Russian life, and how his shadow looms over the structures of law enforcement and criminal investigation, which reminded me strongly of David Young’s excellent depiction of Stasi interference in East Germany in his series featuring Major Karin Muller. All of these strands weaved in and out sustaining the reader’s interest and engagement, and I found it very difficult to second guess where the story was going, and who was the most duplicitous of the characters involved. There were some nifty little tricks and turns in the plot, and most satisfyingly I didn’t identify the utter rotter at the close of the book, but thought this revelation was unexpected, but totally believable in the context of the plot itself.

Another aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed were the little instances of gentle, and not so gentle, joshing that occur between Ivanova  and her colleagues, and the wonderfully eccentric babushka who inhabits the apartment next to that of the murdered girl, who finds herself inextricably linked to the case as the finale approaches. I enjoyed the building of tension and suspicion in Ivanova’s marriage, from her belief that her husband Misha has acquired dirty money, her growing reliance on alcohol and cigarettes, and her wonderfully lax approach to housework and cooking. She has a natural feistiness to her character that is endearing, and by the same token Abson does not make her some kind of indestructible kick-ass heroine, with the violence she experiences producing realistic results. I appreciated the balance that Abson brought to her character, and that her character is nicely defined by not being completely Russian, and that her upbringing in Germany, where her sister resides, could be expanded on in future books.

Overall, I thought Motherland was a strong, positive start to a series, introducing a notable female protagonist, and a nice little cohort of personal and professional relationships, that will give stability, and opportunities for character development in further books. Abson can dip his toes in an oligarch’s fountain, and avoid a trip to the gulag as Motherland was an extremely enjoyable thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

abson-blog-tour-e1527864459576.png

 

20 Books of Summer 2018

With one thing and another, I’ve found my blogging a bit challenging of late, and although I will be bringing my crime reviews up to date, I feel…well…a bit crime’d out. My reading soul is crying out for some fictional fodder so aside from the reading commitments I have over the next couple of months, I’m going to tackle the 20 Books of Summer Challenge again, the brainchild of the brilliant Cathy at 746 Books.

You’re entirely free to choose 5, 10, 15, 20 books- the choice is yours, to be read between 1st June and 3rd September. I’ll be tweeting my reviews via my blog using the #20BOOKSOFSUMMER, and via @cathy746books  but check out the link above for other social media info, and to look at the other participants’ choices too! I’ve seen some cracking lists, containing many books that have piqued my interest over the years too.  

 I think I managed 10 last time, but dodgy eye aside, I am proper going for it this time, and have raided my bookshelves for 20 ‘I will read this someday’ books, which have tarried long enough in the to-be-read mountain…

So in no particular order, here they are…

  • Richard Wight- Native Son
  • Olaf Olafsson- Absolution
  • Michael Ignatieff- Charlie Johnson In Flames
  • Paul Lynch- Red Sky Morning
  • Walker Percy- Lancelot
  • Michael Pitre- Fives and Twenty-Fives
  • Linda Olsson- Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs
  • Zoe Duncan- The Shifting Pools
  • Christopher Hibbert- Angels of Detroit
  • Matt Gallagher- Youngblood
  • Paula Coccoza- How To Be Human
  • Kyo Maclear- Birds Art Life Death
  • Theodore Brun- A Mighty Dawn
  • Denis Theriault- The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman
  • Sarah Hall- The Carhullan Army
  • Nadim Safdar- Akram’s War
  • Connor O’Callaghan- Nothing On Earth
  • Jonas Hassen Khemiri- Everything I Don’t Remember
  • Laura Lindstedt- Oneiron
  • Eowyn Ivey- To The Bright Edge of the World

Happy days!

Derek B. Miller- American By Day

She knew it was a weird place. She’d heard the stories, seen the movies, read the books. But now police Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård has to leave her native Norway and actually go there; to that land across the Atlantic where her missing brother is implicated in the mysterious death of a prominent African-American academic. America. And not someplace interesting, either: upstate New York.
It is election season, 2008, and Sigrid is plunged into a United States where race and identity, politics and promise, reverberate in every aspect of daily life.
To find her older brother, she needs the help of the local police who appear to have already made up their minds about the case. Working with – or, if necessary, against ― someone actually named Sheriff Irving ‘Irv’ Wylie, she must negotiate the local political minefields and navigate the back woods of the Adirondacks to uncover the truth before events escalate further…

Following the absolutely stunning Norwegian By Night which has been a stalwart recommend of mine as a bookseller, it was with some degree of excitement that I greeted the arrival of American By Day. Instead of keeping you in suspense as to my reaction to this book, I will quickly say that it has already claimed a position in my top reads of the year so far, and here’s why…

This book reunites us with Norwegian police chief inspector Sigrid Odegard, who finds herself on a journey, both professional and personal, to track down her missing brother in upstate New York. By marrying the disparate methods of beliefs and practice of law enforcement between Odegard and her American counterpart Sheriff Irving ‘Irv’ Wylie, Miller weaves his dialogue between them with emotional punch, feisty exchanges and differences of opinion, but never losing sight of the fact that they are both are fundamentally on the same side, albeit moulded and shaped by differing social influences. The verbal sparring, but growing mutual respect, is beautifully depicted, and the frisson of tension between them never feels contrived or clichéd as is all too common in crime fiction.

Odegard’s character in particular carries with it a weight of self doubt, constant self appraisal and moments of vulnerability that really resonate with the reader, and she is without doubt one of the most roundly drawn, authentic, and empathetic female characters that I have encountered of late. As she grapples with the gaps in language, cultural differences, and her growing fearfulness as to her brother’s fate, Miller effortlessly carries the reader on her journey of discovery and epiphany, engaging us completely as the story progresses. The dialogue throughout the book is beautifully controlled, infused with wit, gaps in understanding, and envelops the reader in the definition of the characters, their relationships, their emotions and how they perceive and seek to make sense of the world around them.

By aligning these protagonists from two entirely different cultures, Miller has afforded himself the opportunity to provide a mirror to the social and racial issues that plague American society both in the timeline of 2008, with the election looming, and perhaps more pertinently how these conflicts plague American life still. One review I read of this book made a sniffy comment about Miller’s didacticism, and yes, there is a strong sense of authorial comment pervading the book, which is inevitable in the time period, and with the social, racial and political issues the narrative gives rise to. However, I think any reader with a modicum of intelligence will have the gumption to embrace the author’s more cerebral observations, be they objective or subjective, and process this information for themselves. Personally, I had no problem with Miller’s exploration of the American psyche, the ever present issues of racial division, police brutality and so on, as I don’t believe that anyone can claim ignorance as to the existence of these divisive issues. Harking back to the quote from Karin Slaughter that crime fiction is the best medium to reflect the true ills and division of society, this is the lasting impression of this book for me. I found Miller’s juxtaposition of a compelling and emotive plot, with the exploration of race, violence, mental illness and social conflict a perfect blend, and his balance between the two streams of narrative are never less that completely absorbing.

I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of people that read, aside from the pure enjoyment of reading, do so to provide themselves with an enhanced comprehension of the world around them, and to encounter and experience people, places and cultural differences, and this is what Miller achieves here. American By Day is smarter than your average thriller, but containing all the essential components of good crime fiction that keep us reading and reading.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Doubleday for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time To Catch-Up- Malcolm Mackay- In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide, Mari Hannah-The Lost, David Jackson- Don’t Make A Sound, M L Rio- If We Were Villains, Renata Serelyte- The Music Teacher

I’ll keep it simple, and no over-sharing! One of my eyes is knacked,  and proving a wee bit troublesome, but now reading and using the computer pretty much one-eyed, which is frustrating but better than nothing! So at last- and huzzah- the time is ripe for some life changing magic of catching up on some albeit shorter reviews.  

The Raven is back.

 

The independent kingdom of Scotland flourished until the beginning of the last century. Its great trading port of Challaid, in the north west of the country, sent ships around the world and its merchants and bankers grew rich on their empire in Central America.

But Scotland is not what it was, and the docks of Challaid are almost silent. The huge infrastructure projects collapsed, like the dangerous railway tunnels under the city. And above ground the networks of power and corruption are all that survive of Challaid’s glorious past. Darian Ross is a young private investigator whose father, an ex cop, is in prison for murder. He takes on a case brought to him by a charismatic woman, Maeve Campbell. Her partner has been stabbed; the police are not very curious about the death of a man who laundered money for the city’s criminals. Ross is drawn by his innate sense of justice and his fascination with Campbell into a world in which no-one can be trusted.

It’s always interesting to see an established crime author suddenly take a wee flight of fancy. and toy with their reader’s expectations, sometimes successful, and sometimes not. Although an ardent admirer of Mackay’s work to date,  I must admit that this book perplexed and delighted me in equal measure, with its linear Chandler-esque crime mystery, replete with world weary private investigators, bent coppers, devious men of business, and a splendid femme fatale. This arc of the plot worked on every level, littered with Mackay’s trademark dark cynical humour and explosive interludes of down and dirty violence, and was a complete pleasure as always.

However, I did find myself slightly less engaged with the whole parallel history malarkey, and the punctuation throughout the text of assorted newspaper articles, historical referencing and so on illustrating the changing fortunes of Challaid throughout the years. It was disruptive to the flow, thus making the book feel like two distinctly different parts of the whole, whereas if both parts had been fleshed out into two books it would maybe not felt quite as jarring and disconnected. Despite this criticism, I feel that the Challaid story would be worth revisiting by Mackay, but maybe bound up in a more pure fantasy style, if such a thing is possible. Not without its charm, and an interesting experiment, but a little unbalanced overall, but glad to see Mackay still rocking the unfeasibly long book title, and his hardboiled edge. Worth a look though.

(With thanks to Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

Alex arrives home from holiday to find that her ten-year-old son Daniel has disappeared.

It’s the first case together for Northumbria CID officers David Stone and Frankie Oliver.

Stone has returned to his roots with fifteen years’ experience in the Met, whereas Oliver is local, a third generation copper with a lot to prove, and a secret that’s holding her back.

But as the investigation unfolds, they realise the family’s betrayal goes deeper than anyone suspected. This isn’t just a missing persons case. Stone and Oliver are hunting a killer…

And now to the first instalment of another new series from the wonderfully prolific Mari Hannah, introducing the crime detecting duo of seasoned copper David Stone, and keen as mustard sidekick Frankie Oliver. Hannah’s trademark is the sheer believability of her characters, and how quickly she envelops her reader’s interest in the world they inhabit, and she does this with her usual flair and empathy. I loved both characters, and although there is the necessary concealment of certain darker aspects of their lives that needs to be gradually teased out, unlike other pure police procedurals this never felt hackneyed or trite in its deliverance. They are both genuinely likeable, dedicated, refreshingly human protagonists, and the way they interact with and challenge each other throughout this investigation, leads to some brilliantly realised moments of confrontation, and the growth of a greater understanding of, and empathy with each other. The plot itself is probably the closest I’ve come to reading my bete noir of domestic drama, with a family on the brink of destruction leading to some very uncomfortable revelations for all, not to mention murder. As always Hannah’s timing and pace in The Lost is assured and compelling, and there’s some nice dramatic reveals, and emotive scenes, adding to the overall feel of an authentic, and hugely engaging police procedural. I also appreciated the title of the book itself, and how closely it represents and reflects most of the characters within the story. Once again, highly recommended

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Meet the Bensons. They’re an ordinary couple. They wash their car, mow their lawn and pass the time of day with their neighbours. And they have a beautiful little girl called Daisy.

There’s just one problem.

SHE’S NOT THEIRS.

D. S. Nathan Cody is about to face his darkest and most terrifying case yet . . .

Okay, prepare to be utterly creeped out again with another dark and twisted tale from the always entertaining and unsettling David Jackson. This new instalment of the D.S. Nathan Cody series, begins with a typically dark scenario, and to be honest, and thankfully, doesn’t really let up, as Jackson ramps up the weirdness, the violence, and positively torments Cody even more than he has done previously. I like Cody’s character very much, as neurotic and strange as he is, despite wondering intermittently quite how he keeps his job. However, with the back-up of two strong female characters in the shape of his police partner, the long suffering DC Megan Webley, and his boss, the perfectly named DCI Stella Blunt, Cody’s relationships with both provides some interesting juxtapositions in terms of how we perceive his character. There’s also a nice little group of other police personnel, who provide moments of humour, succour and annoyance to Cody and Webley, but with an overarching feeling that there is an underlying bonhomie and cohesion to the team, apart from Cody going a bit lone wolf from time to time. With his trademark gallows humour, a few little pulls on our credulity, and a goodly amount of spine tingling tension, Don’t Make A Sound proves an enjoyable crime caper. Recommended.

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

A small town police investigator broods obsessively on her tragic love affair with her school music teacher in Soviet Lithuania. After the town is shaken by the murder of a teenage girl, the investigation seems to dry up. When her ex-lover, now local politician, tries to close down the case, she begins to suspect that he may have been involved…

My first entanglement with Lithuanian crime, swathed in hugely descriptive imagery, lyrical pontifications, and poetical flights of fancy, that to my mind completely overwhelmed the premise of this book as a crime novel. I like to consider myself a not unintelligent person, but must confess that after being taken off on some roaming poetical tangent for what seemed like an eon, I began to lose sight of what was actually happening. Although I am a regular reader of slightly pretentious literary fiction, and do achieve a perverse sense of enjoyment from it, this just irritated me, and I began to care less and less as we were endlessly enveloped in this loop of a exceedingly tedious love affair. With hindsight, I can’t tell you why the girl was murdered, or who did it, or if they were brought to justice, as all I remember for some reason is that electricians are full of negative energy,  and quite frankly I feel much the same. Disappointing.

(With thanks to Noir for the ARC)

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life.When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless…

I have only ever submitted three one star reviews, and one of these was for a book called The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, which I rather scathingly said would probably only be required reading for first year drama students, if they weren’t out getting drunk on cheap cider. This flashed into my mind quite soon after embarking on this book, despite the promise of it being perfect for fans of Donna Tartt. As we become inveigled more and more in this group of largely egotistical, privileged, and increasingly annoying drama students at a prestigious arts academy, the allure of this being anything like Tartt is quickly dispelled. Despite being vaguely intrigued at the outset as the incarcerated Oliver, on the brink of release, reveals himself to have been refreshingly different to his dramatic cohorts, I quickly ascertained how this story of jealousy, and conflict would pan out. And it did- although I confess to skipping to the end, after trudging through 200 odd pages. There’s also a large amount of lazy writing, with substantial passages of Shakespeare reproduced that began to feel like superfluous filling, as most readers familiar with the plays that the students re-enact would not need what felt like chunks of text. Also the little references to lines from Shakespeare that pepper the students’ speech becomes increasingly wearisome, and pretentious, and merely propels their name into my roll call of writers as up themselves as Martin Amis.

I didn’t like this. I will exit pursued by bear. Now I sound like a knob too. Sorry.

(I foolishly bought this copy)

 

 

Blog Tour- Jack Grimwood- Nightfall Berlin

In 1986, news that East-West nuclear-arms negotiations are taking place lead many to believe the Cold War may finally be thawing. For British intelligence officer Major Tom Fox, however, it is business as usual. Ordered to arrange the smooth repatriation of a defector, Fox is smuggled into East Berlin. But it soon becomes clear that there is more to this than an old man wishing to return home to die – a fact cruelly confirmed when Fox’s mission is fatally compromised. Trapped in East Berlin, hunted by an army of Stasi agents and wanted for murder by those on both sides of the Wall, Fox must somehow elude capture and get out alive. But to do so he must discover who sabotaged his mission and why…

Since an early age I have been fascinated by spies, lies and espionage and all the cloak and dagger activities of those who detect, and seek to subvert threats to national security: grey squirrel can’t fly without umbrella and all that tricksy spy-craft stuff. I was mightily impressed by Jack Grimwood’s debut Moskva that provided a fresh new take on the path previously trodden by Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park, and most pleasingly Major Tom Fox is back in the fray in this follow up, Nightfall Berlin. The events of the previous book resonate here as Fox navigates the world of East Berlin, firmly under the control of both the Soviet occupiers and the secretive agents of the state, the infamous Stasi. Tasked with bringing a notorious double agent back home to the clutches of British Intelligence, Fox quickly finds himself embroiled in, and accused of murder, as well as being thrust firmly into the gaze of the pernicious security services, calling on all his skills of evasion and detection to extricate himself from his increasingly perilous situation: a situation that has ramifications for those closest to him too…

This is one of the most skilfully plotted traditional Cold War thrillers I have read in recent years, and as we are effortlessly transported between the harsh, concrete world of East Berlin, and the verdant peace of rural England, Grimwood moves between past and present, laying false clues and leading us as much as Fox himself down blind alleyways, with a trail of misinformation and double crossing galore. Grimwood, similarly in his fantasy oeuvre, is an extremely visual writer, and not without reason I was reminded strikingly of those classic black and white spy films, as Fox navigates his way around this hostile environment. The sheer poverty, and unrelenting grind of life in this communist enclave is front and centre, and by extension what people will do to escape its iron grip. People are fearful and mistrustful, and Grimwood depicts beautifully how Fox seeks to circumvent this pall of suspicion and fear to prove his innocence, and to catch a ruthless killer.

I get the sense that it was with some glee that Grimwood delights in not only constructing a disparate, interesting and slightly damaged characters, but also that he so brilliantly masks those that are treacherous and self serving so well. Without exception, each character is precisely drawn and tangible in their thoughts and motivations for their actions: in what they reveal and what they conceal. In the grand tradition of Le Carre, Ambler, and Deighton, Grimwood tricks and feints the reader, but never to the detriment of the sheer believability of the narrative itself. I was genuinely absorbed and loved the web of reveals and surprises that Grimwood so effortlessly introduces into this seriously gripping thriller. There is a pace and tense nervous energy to the narrative that urges the reader on, and yet a subtle slowing of pace in some of the most nerve shredding scenes that provide a much more unsettling effect on the reader. Grimwood handles all aspects of this book with a deft touch from setting, to characterisation, to pace, to the plot itself, and if you love a twisty, cerebral Cold War thriller as much as I do, I would definitely recommend that you seek out Nightfall Berlin. Duplicitous spies, and conniving Russians seems oddly prescient at the moment… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph for the ARC)

Check out the rest of the blog tour at these excellent sites…

Vicky Newham- Turn A Blind Eye

A dead girl.
A wall of silence.
DI Maya Rahman is running out of time.

A headmistress is found strangled in her East London school, her death the result of a brutal and ritualistic act of violence. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept:

I shall abstain from taking the ungiven.

At first, DI Maya Rahman can’t help but hope this is a tragic but isolated murder. Then, the second body is found. Faced with a community steeped in secrets and prejudice, Maya must untangle the cryptic messages left at the crime scenes to solve the deadly riddle behind the murders – before the killer takes another victim…

Having recently been a wee bit disillusioned with British crime thrillers and some of their failures in presenting a realistic picture of multicultural Britain, Turn A Blind Eye proved to be a refreshing new thriller from debut author Vicky Newham.

Rooting the book in the East End of London in a comprehensive school, Newham, drawing heavily on her own experience of teaching in this environment. From the outset, we bear witness to a singularly authentic depiction of the daily grind and small moments of achievement that teachers experience in this most challenging of educational environments. With such a disparate array of cultures, differing educational achievement, and the often difficult family backgrounds of the pupils, Newham balances perfectly the everyday experiences of the both the teachers and pupils, the good and the bad, the challenges and the rewards.  Giving nothing away, the series of murders that then begin to happen within the school, allows Newham to dig deeper into the teachers’ and pupils’ lives, and puts front and centre the question of the degree of  responsibility  teachers hold when their pupils school and family life begin to impact on each other, and to what extent their intervention can lead to harmful results. The suicide of a female pupil plays an integral role in the plot, and Newham never fails to treat this issue, and the reasons for it in both a sensitive, and balanced way. Equally, she applies this same degree of balance to the characters of the teachers involved, and their contrary responses, both sympathetic and less so, to the everyday troubles and pressures that the pupils experience, when cultural and familial conflict arise.

The multicultural tensions and difficulties of the schools and society are expanded in the book in the characters of DI Maya Rahman, and her partner DS Dan Maguire. Rahman is Bangladeshi, and Maguire is a resident of Australia where his Aborigine wife and children live. Rahman has recently lost her brother, having just returned from his funeral in Bangladesh, and the book is punctuated with a shifting of timelines showing the problems she has experienced in relation to her family, and the cultural demands that have so sadly resulted in her brother’s death. Although she is still in a state of grief, she is a determined and professional detective, unafraid to confront the stupidity of her superiors, and to ask uncomfortable questions to ascertain the truth. Maguire proves an interesting sidekick with the references to his life in Australia, and the challenges he and his family face, and the natural bonhomie and good humour that he injects in to his and Rahman’s working relationship. I liked the way that Newham portrays them both as inching their way to a comfortable working relationship, and the strength of this gradually grows as the book progresses, leading to a solid base for hopefully further investigations in the future.

As I have mentioned, their is a particular onus in the book on cultural and religious experience, and Newham deftly addresses the beliefs and tenets of Buddhism, Islam and so on. This undercurrent of religious and cultural tension is thought provoking and informative throughout, and the authorial voice is detectable but not overly obtrusive, as Newham seeks to balance her own first hand experience and knowledge within the boundaries of the story. As well as being entertained and engaged with the book as a crime thriller, I enjoyed this extra level of detail, which I found both informative, enlightening, and at times incredibly poignant too.

All in all, I found Turn A Blind Eye a well-plotted and compelling thriller throughout, and despite the fact that the reveal of the guilty party felt slightly disjointed in the depleted cast of characters in the overall narrative, I still felt that this was an assured and well written debut. Am looking forward to my next entanglement with Rahman and Maguire. Recommended.

(With thanks to HQ for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Up ↑